Remembering the lost children of El Salvador's war
The Salvadoran government recently apologized for its role in the forced disappearance of children during its 12-year war. Some say targeting children was a tactic to invoke terror on families.
San Cristóbal, El Salvador
After more than 25 years of imagining how her mother and five younger brothers were killed by the Army during El Salvador’s brutal civil war, María Angelica Escobar got used to the nightmares.Skip to next paragraph
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But just over a year ago, the remains of Ms. Escobar’s mother and brothers were discovered in a mass grave in the community of San Cristóbal, in the hills surrounding the central Salvadoran town of Suchitoto. The exhumation began in September 2011, and slightly more than a year later, on Oct. 27, the remains of the victims were turned over to their families for burial.
“I feel happy and satisfied,” Escobar says. “I can rest now, knowing that they’re no longer abandoned.”
Five of the 18 victims in the grave – victims of a 1984 Army massacre in the community of San Cristóbal – were Escobar’s family members.
The grave where her family was found is just one of hundreds of mass graves exhumed since the signing of El Salvador’s 1992 peace accords, which brought to a close a 12-year war that left more than 75,000 people dead or disappeared, largely at the hand of the Army. But, unlike most mass graves uncovered by local and international nongovernmental organizations, this one held the remains of mainly children. It was a remnant of the conflict that has garnered renewed attention when late last month, the Salvadoran government publicly apologized for the forced disappearances and killings of hundreds of children during the civil war.
"Per instructions of the President of the Republic, Mauricio Funes, I ask for pardon, in the name of the Salvadoran government, from the hundreds of families that were victims of the forced disappearance of boys and girls during the armed conflict," said Hugo Martínez, minister of foreign relations, in a press conference. "[Pardon] from these families that suffered infinite pain from being hit by the disappearance of their most beloved and most vulnerable ones.” Mr. Martínez said.
The public apology was part of a 2011 sentencing by the Inter-American Human Rights Court related to government reparations for the disappearances of six children from three families between 1981 and 1985. Despite the apology, human rights organizations have critiqued President Funes’s government for failing to prosecute any government agents. A truth commission found agents were responsible for 85 percent of the human rights abuses during El Salvador’s civil war, according to a 1993 report commissioned by the United Nations.
During El Salvador’s civil war, which lasted from 1980 -1992, leftist guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front – which is now the country’s ruling party – took up arms against the US-backed Salvadoran troops and right-wing death squads. The military’s scorched-earth campaign meant it was common practice to eliminate entire towns, killing men, women, and children. In what is believed to have been an effort to invoke terror, it was common practice to “disappear” any surviving children, taking them to orphanages, or adopting them into military or foreign families. Sometimes the children were even forced into the Army.